Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Red Leaves: Horror During the Winter War

Putin probably did not spend much time studying the Winter War, considering it was a war of aggression against a smaller nation that Stalin started and essentially lost. When the Soviet troops invaded Finland, they left behind their wives and children to endure the harsh Russian winter on their own. Yari and her mother Tatiana must also face a menacing and possibly supernatural monster stalking through the woods in Massimo Rosi’s graphic novel Red Leaves, illustrated by Ivan Fiorelli, which releases today in bookstores.

The Soviet Army is literally starving on the front. Tatiana also finds a shortage of meat at the village market, because something unnatural has been killing the local game. Whatever it is, it appears to be watching her and Yari. Meanwhile, we see her father struggling with inadequate supplies, increased desertions, and maybe something worse. Tatiana needs to be strong for Yari, but she starts to self-medicate with vodka, a very Soviet method of self-destruction.

Rosi does not reveal the nature of the beast too early, but those familiar with Slavic folk legends or Mario Bava’s
Black Sabbath should have a good idea of what it is. In fact, its distinctive hunger is particularly cruel and specifically puts Yari and Tatiana at grave risk. However, Fiorelli’s strikingly sinister design for the monster definitely looks cool.

Rosi’s subtle writing never posits a direct correlation between the national sins of Stalin’s USSR and the strange supernatural horrors unfolding on a micro level. Yet, the latter clearly seems to follow the former. Regardless, it all fits within the bleak landscape Fiorelli dramatically renders in black-and-white, with select spots and washes of red. His reds are not vibrant though. They are the reds of dried blood, drying leaves, and faded Soviet banners.

Red Leaves
brings dimensions of grand Russian tragedy to an ominous monster tale. The publishing process begins months before a title goes on-sale, so it is doubtful the publisher expected Rosi’s story to have so much contemporary resonance. Yet, here we are, with Russian bogged down in an unprovoked invasion of its neighbor and Finland applying to join NATO. Regardless, Rosi and Fiorelli really bring the chill of Russian winters to readers. Highly recommended, Red Leaves is now on-sale at bookselling accounts.